The Yukon Party is accusing the territorial government and a former health minister of potentially violating conflict of interest law regarding the Old Crow Health and Wellness Center.
Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon raised the allegation about former Health and Human Services Minister Pauline Frost during Question Period April 25 after learning of the matter in the House on March 28, but did not file a complaint with the Yukon Conflict of Interest Commissioner.
Frost is accused of working as an operations manager for Ketza TSL Construction Ltd. The company is responsible for building the Old Crow Wellness Center – a contract it won when Frost was Minister of Health and Social Services.
Dixon suggested that his departure from politics and his collaboration with Ketza in the middle of the major project violates conflict of interest rules.
the Conflict of Interest Act states that a former minister shall not make representations to the Yukon government in relation to a “deal or negotiation” to which the government is a party and in which he has previously participated as a minister.
On March 11, 2021, the Government of Yukon announced in a news release that it had awarded a $44.9 million contract to Ketza TSL Construction Ltd. for the construction of a new health and wellness center and 10-unit housing complex in Old Crow. An election was called the following day.
Frost was Minister and Vuntut Gwitchin MP when the contract was awarded. Frost does not appear to be registered as a lobbyist.
Frost responded to the allegations in a one-line email on April 28.
“I waited the mandatory six months and I complied with the Conflict of Interest Act and I can confirm that I am working for the benefit of my community,” Frost said.
Dixon learned of what he sees as a potential breach on March 28 when Highways and Works Minister Nils Clarke said he had had no direct or indirect conversations with the former minister, although he was informed that she had contacted his ministry about the center.
At the time, Clarke said he would provide ‘any communication deemed to be releasable’ to respond to the MP opposite.
“Can the Minister of Highways and Public Works tell us if the former Minister of Health and Social Services ever contacted the Government of Yukon regarding the Old Crow Health and Wellness Centre? Dixon asked on April 25.
Clarke said current ministers had not met Frost about the project because it was under the Department of Highways and Works.
He went on to explain that an official request from Ketza to meet ministers had been made, with Frost copied and rejected by the government. Frost was instructed to work directly with department staff.
Dixon requested all correspondence between Frost and the Yukon government in response.
Dixon also asked if the government had sought legal advice regarding the potential conflict.
Clarke repeated her previous responses from that day, adding that work on the 10-unit mixed-use housing project and wellness center is continuing after some initial winter road challenges.
“This is fantastic infrastructure for the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation,” he said.
After question period, Dixon told reporters in the Yukon Legislative Building that the minister had confirmed the situation to him.
“This is very concerning, as it looks like this could very well be a breach of conflict of interest law.”
Dixon had asked the government to release legal advice and correspondence between the former minister and the government.
“The government refused to publish the legal opinion, which would demonstrate that [Frost] was not in breach of that law, nor of correspondence between the former minister and the government,” Dixon said.
“This is a project that was mired in scandal before we asked about it last year in the tender. It was evaluated at record speed, published and awarded the day before the government called the election. So the timing of this was extremely suspicious.
Dixon pressed the subject again during question period and spoke to reporters on April 26.
“In this particular case, it’s pretty clear that there is at least the perception of the possibility of a conflict of interest, and I think when you have that perception, the government should take steps to clarify that and explain why it is not a contravention of the act,” he said.
Asked about it on April 26, Prime Minister Sandy Silver told reporters that a request had been made for his cabinet ministers to hold a meeting – and they didn’t, so the minister asked his team to do what they were supposed to do.
Filing a Conflict Complaint Has Potential Consequences
The Commissioner’s annual reports indicate that Members of the Legislative Assembly may file a conflict of interest complaint against another MLA or Minister; however, if the commission concludes that there are no reasonable grounds to file a complaint, the legislature may “find the complaining member guilty of contempt of assembly and suspend the complaining member from sitting in the assembly or one of its committees.
“As it will be understood, filing a formal complaint is a serious matter, involving a formal and potentially expensive investigative process, and one which may result in serious and public consequences for the member or Minister subject to the complaint. complaint or the member making the complaint. the complaint,” reads the latest report posted online.
“As a result, Members of Parliament and Ministers are well advised to take great care in organizing their affairs so as to avoid any conflict of interest (“an ounce of prevention is better than cure”); and members will think carefully before making a formal complaint against another member or minister.
Silver said he didn’t contact the Conflicts Commissioner because “we didn’t do anything wrong.”
He said the responsibility rests with the promoters – the former minister and the private sector – for lobbying and reporting.
Silver called it an attempted “character assassination”.
“There was a request for a meeting, and the administrators did not do it. That’s the end of the story,” he said.
In a legislative report submitted by Clarke on April 27, the Freedom of Information and Privacy Office found that the Design-Builder’s letter of December 14, 2021 was confidential in nature and therefore , the letter was not published.
“The requested meeting did not take place, instead, according to the attached email, on December 15, 2021, the design-builder was instructed to work with officials from the Department of Highways and Works. This is the normal route for contract management,” reads Clarke’s response on engaging contractors on the Old Crow project.
The attached email, which has been made available, asks proponents to engage with Paul McConnell, the Deputy Minister of Highways and Public Works.
Contact Dana Hatherly at [email protected]